KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Business Leaders, Nonprofits Find Takeaways From Cultural Competence Training

Children practiced basic scales during an after-school band class for beginners at Rosie’s House, a free music academy. The nonprofit has been around for more than two decades, and it helps hundreds of Valley kids whose parents don’t make much money.

“Youth that traditionally would not have access to arts education,” said Becky Bell Ballard, chief executive officer.

Around 2010, Ballard had been on the job for about a year and she recognized two issues. One was the majority of Rosie’s House staff didn’t look like the students, who are mostly Latino. The other was that as a white woman, she’d had a privileged upbringing in the dominant culture.   

“Those two things frame my bias,” she said. 

Accusations that a white author stole from Mexican culture to write a novel about immigration led to the publisher canceling a book tour. As the controversy spread, Ballard was among a group of local business owners and nonprofit leaders who went to cultural competence training at the Arizona Good Business Summit held in the Phoenix Convention Center.

“It is a very gray area in many respects. So there isn’t really a lot of one size fits all answers, necessarily,” said Natalia Ronceria Ceballos, who led the discussion called “Cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation: Navigating the Nuances Throughout Your Business.”

Still, it's not rocket science, Ronceria Ceballos said. Some of her tips, like diversifying staff and making room for dissenting voices, are not new ideas. She thinks much could be avoided if organizations would just slow down.  

“I would argue that the time and even the cost of being patient is going to always be significantly less than when you have to say ‘sorry.’ And when you have to backtrack. And when you have to do a cleanup campaign,” she said.

Roy Tatem was in the audience. One of his many jobs is consultant, like Ronceria Ceballos. Tatem focuses on helping people understand the African American perspective.

“Learn the history. Appreciate the history. Appreciate where we’ve come from,” he said. 

Blacks are the most copied people in history, Tatem said. One recent example of appropriation came from the fashion brand Ralph Lauren, which apologized as it pulled pricey pants from stores because they’d been made with images trademarked by a fraternity founded at an all-black university.

“They obviously had no one in their chain of command that was familiar with black Greek letter organizations,” Tatem said. 

Avoiding these kinds of business gaffes were what the presentation by Ronceria Ceballos was mostly geared toward. So she was surprised when it turned out that most of her audience members were from nonprofits, which can get into trouble for how they build empathy with wealthy donors.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times it can fall as that like, we’re putting poverty on show, or we’re tokenizing, or we’re doing that whole savior thing,” Ronceria Ceballos said.  

Ballard’s takeaway from the discussion was a reminder that Rosie’s House has to make decisions with the community it serves. Not for it.

“And I feel like our organization has continued to evolve in our cultural competency. I personally am trying to build my world view,” Ballard said.

She started this journey a decade ago, and there have since been two strategies at Rosie’s House: One is to confront bias through staff training that focuses on power structure, decision making and inclusion. The other is to diversify the team.

“From our program director to our department heads, those are positions (now) held by people of color," she said. 

One is the department head for wind instruments. Aldie Lopez gave instructions, encouragement and kept time for the beginners band class. He’s worked at Rosie’s House since 2017.

Matthew Casey has won Edward R. Murrow awards for hard news and sports reporting since he joined KJZZ as a senior field correspondent in 2015.